Neil Gaiman, Smoke and Mirrors: Short
Fictions and Illusions
(Avon, 1998)

Originally I was never much of a fan of Gaiman. I'd bought the first trade paperback of The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes and couldn't quite understand what others saw in the work. Why did they rave on so? To me, it was just a little too dark, a little too violent. Then I discovered Gaiman's prose and poetry and was absolutely stunned. Neverwhere simply knocked my socks off and then I found Smoke and Mirrors.

By this stage, I decided that maybe I was missing the point in The Sandman comics, maybe I was a little too young on my first reading to fully grasp the subtleties of the story. So I went back to my trade paperback and realised I hadn't fully understood. Being slightly older and having a much better understanding of the comic format, I was able to gain much more both through my reading and from the visuals. So now I am an avid fan and eagerly await the printing of the next volume, importing the American cloth editions at great expense. To me, it is worth every cent.

Gaiman was born in England but now resides in America. He is best known for his comic work about The Sandman in particular, but he has numerous other credits to his name, including The Books of Magic, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, as well as numerous other publications. His first move into novels was Good Omens, co-written with Terry Pratchett of Discworld fame. His first novel was Neverwhere, based on a series he did for BBC television and which Gaiman is now working into a film for Jim Henson Films.

One thing Gaiman never appears afraid of is revisiting his works, reinvesting them with new ideas. So far, there are at least three versions of Neverwhere. Stardust is currently running at two versions: the original graphic novel, illustrated by Charles Vess, as well as the novel version which was released in January of 1999.

Smoke and Mirrors is a collection of Gaiman's short stories and poetry, most of which have appeared in numerous anthologies including Tales of the White Wolf, David Copperfield's Beyond Imagination and Datlow and Windling's Snow White, Blood Red. DreamHaven Press published several of the stories under the title of Angels and Visitations.

The introduction is a friendly chat -- author to reader -- about Gaiman's ideas of stories and where they come from. He actually takes time out to write a story, as part of the introduction, after being reminded of an idea he had of giving stories as presents. This particular story, "The Wedding Present" originally was considered by Gaiman as a wedding present for some friends. However, he changed his mind and bought them a toaster instead, which when you read the final story might have been the best solution. The outcome of the story sent shivers down my spine. As part of the introduction, Gaiman also provides a a few words on each of the stories, mentioning where the story was first published and what provided the inspiration.

Gaiman shows an aptitude for writing, no matter what format. He has already proved his mastery in the areas of comic writing and novels, but Smoke and Mirrors displays similar skills in short story writing and poetry categories. In short, Gaiman is a storyteller of the highest caliber, and he loves to share his stories. This collection contains stories of chivalry, Christmas stories, stories about cats and stories about trolls. Stories full of horror and stories full of wonder -- you can find them all in this collection. I'm not going to describe each of the stories within this collection because it would ruin your sense of discovery as you come to each. Suffice it to say, I do not think you will be disappointed.

It is a beautifully presented book, the jacket reflecting the title right down to the photo of Gaiman on the back. The fonts used are clear and there is plenty of white space around the page and between the line, which makes for easier reading, especially after a day in front of the computer.

I would recommend this book to all, but then I'm biased, I've been caught like a moth in Gaiman's flame.